Re Whiter Shade Of Pale...whether there's meaning that is missed or whether it is simply an attempt to be obtuse or whether by design one is find his or her own dots to connect what ultimately is to be said is that it made (makes) a ton of money and folks are still writing and talking about it 51 years later. There are millions of lyrics, good, bad and outstanding that will never carry that mantle!
Yeah, it did make a lot of money. I wonder if that's a standard of excellence? Is it a good song as long as it makes a lot of money? If that's the case then I guess all of our music on this site sucks! I don't think many of us are making a lot of money. What about decades later or generations later when it's no longer making a lot of money? I'm not making a judgment call, just throwing out questions for consideration. My hat's off to these guys for making a lot of money and to the people who liked the song enough to purchase it. Also, what about the marketing to the public, maybe it played a part?
What about great songs that don't make a lot of money? Today, the competition is sooo fierce and limited and the industry is sooo exclusive that maybe really great songs and lyrics never make it to the public.
But to me personally the bottom line is to try to write understanding lyrics, not that I'm always successful but we should try to excel.
Thanks to all who weigh in and contribute. I think it helps to understand the topic and certainly increases my learning in how others look at things and interpret it.
I don't know if the below is useful reading but it's my take on the lyrics of "White Shade of Pale".
At some of the Pat Pattison seminars I've been to, Pat has mentioned the concept of 'impressionistic lyrics'. This notion has caused me to think a great deal over the years about different possible styles of lyric writing. My thinking has been along the line of the following.
With painting, a very broad classification of styles run from 'realism' through 'impressionistic' and then into 'abstract'.
What music enthusiasts collectively call Classical Music also has the aural equivalent of these styles. There's the 'tonal music' (the painting equivalent of realism) of Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc., that developed into the 'Romantic music' (impressionistic) of Schumann, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Mendelsohnn, etc., that then leads into the 'atonal music' (abstract) of 20th century composing.
The film industry is similar: there are realistic films, impressionistic films and Art House films. Literature also ranges from realism to abstract.
I've come to see that lyrics, like other art forms, can be written using these different techniques. There are lyrics from the equivalent of the realism gallery of art and there are impressionistic lyrics as well as abstract lyrics.
While I only seem to be able to write words in the 'realism' style, with maybe an occasional minor excursion into the impressionistic arena, I admire those who can evoke imagery, thoughts and feelings through using cleverly chosen words and sonic-linking techniques such as rhyme, rhythm, repetition, assonance, consonance, etc.
Have a listen to Jimmie Rodgers singing Bimbombey below.
To my mind, the lyrics to Bimbombey are tending towards the realism end of impressionistic in that they reflect aspects of real life but present these aspects in a non-realistic way. By this I mean that they are like Vincent Van Gogh's paintings where each element in his paintings is indentifiable as 'real' but the painting of the element is not a 'realism' replication of the original.
In Bimbombey... the main rhyming sound is the long 'a' and through the clever use of this sound, in addition to some minor rhymes, a heap of alliteration, and a ton of repetition, the song's composers (David, Peretti, Creatore) create an impressionistic look at the journey of a happy guy on his way to propose to his girlfriend. Every time I listen to this song, I greatly admire the imagination and the craftsmanship from which it grew.
To me, the lyrics of "White Shade of Pale" has elements of impressionism as well as the abstract. When I listen to the first section of words, I hear impressionism in
We skipped a light fandango Turned cartwheels 'cross the floor I was feeling kinda seasick The crowd called out for more
because these words could be 'painting' a real-life situation. Following on from these, though, the continuity is disrupted and the lyrics lead into the abstract where the imagery is strong and carries on from the beginning of the lyrics.
The room was humming harder As the ceiling flew away When we called out for another drink The waiter brought a tray
This feeling of 'abstract', or 'Art House', stays with me as I journey through the rest of the song. It's one of my favourite pieces of music. For me, the appeal is not just the isolated meaning of words but the imagery that these words create and the musical journey that accompanies them. The descending bass line that features throughout always grabs my attention!
_________________________ LINKS TO MY BIAB/RB SONGS
Donna, I wasn't implying that the fact that it made a lot of money made it a good or a bad song per se...only that 51 years later we are still talking about it. There a thousands of songs that made a lot of money that we've forgotten about. The big sales put Whiter in the limelight; however, the lyric has kept the guessing game going for half a century.
I like Noel's impressionistic take on some music. It's a good analogy, for me, to painting. Sometimes I'll look at an impressionistic painting and think a toddler could've done that. And other times I'll see one that is seemingly as abstract but I see intriguing things in it. I think Whiter does that in song and captures that cultural period -- whether it was drug addled or intentional
Thanks Charlie for looking this song up in Wikipedia. I would have never came to this conclusion of the song from the words itself. Who's the miller they are talking about, telling his tale? What is the tale? You lose the listener when they are scratching their heads. Anyway, I find the words a little vague that could have added so much to the song. Maybe many people don't care if they like the song, but as a lyricist I find the communication of the words important.
Back in the day, many UK/Brit bands were formed by youngsters disaffected by their upbringing in the decades after ww2. Despite their rebellion, they could only use that which they were given, primarily their education.
whiter shade of pale refers to the miller and his tale. This would be Geoffrey Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales. a set of stories set in medieval times, of which one is told by the Miller. Studying the book was a common part of the school curriculum and often tested in exams.
The vestal virgins were often referred to in classical Latin and Greek lessons taught at schools in those decades. They were a few women who had influence in many ways on Roman society, religion and politics.
So its only a reference to the writers education in those lines of the song. The rest of the lyrics seems capably found and worked into the song.
Most agree that the influence of Bach in the music is obvious. Again I would say the result of piano lessons in the graded system of music education, the associated board.
Edited by duncanwhyte (02/16/1804:01 PM)
Using: Dell 3268 i3, 8 GB ram, windows 10. Biab version 2017 standard package, no extras.
Bud I think it's great that it's been 50 years and we're still talking about it. I'm interested in the fact that duncanwhyte is saying that it was written by a British guy of whom his references was the education at the time and for some of us we have no reference whatsoever to what they are talking about. So this is quite interesting.
The miller is someone who is telling a story and vestal virgins are women of influence back in the day and a Bach influence on the music. Regardless, it became a popular hit in it's day.
So it's something like he met a girl and was kind of messed up, but he knew she wasn't an influential girl and the miller told him more about her which made her turn a whiter shade of pale. He was leaving anyway, so probably was glad he found out the truth.
Noel, Maybe there is not one way to judge good lyrics. Maybe there are story telling songs and feeling songs and abstract songs. What is most important, how it connects to a person or to the audience? Does it make people stop and think or cry? Does it make people happy and want to dance? Does the song clarify something in their lives or make them say I know exactly how this person felt?
There are actually 4 verses for wsop. But the other two weren't used in the original recording, or possibly edited out. They seem to focus on the sea and mermaids, neptune, and further references to the man/woman thing.
I found a live recording of all 4 on t'internet, but I have to say it changed the song from what i am used to hearing and feeling.
Using: Dell 3268 i3, 8 GB ram, windows 10. Biab version 2017 standard package, no extras.
Dcuny, No complaints against commercial music. Hat's off to anyone who made it and made some money. The music industry has changed alot from the 60s, it's much more difficult today, a lot more competition and more of a formula especially in country music.
Since I write lyrics just wanted to get feedback on what others think are important to determine what's a good song. I know that's a very subjective question and may depend on what genre or styles people like. Lyrics may be important to some and not important to others.
I like to post questions as I always learn from how others see things and it helps me to look at things I never considered before.
Yes, wonderful things do happen and it's always encouraging when it does. I heard the WSOP the other day and I had a deeper appreciation for it now that I understand what the song was saying. I know for some people the lyrics don't matter but for others it really does make a difference to understanding and appreciating the song. Also, when you first hear a song the melody and music may draw you in and you really like it. But as you listen to the song over and over again you start to hear the words more and try to understand and appreciate the song at a deeper level.
Loc: Colorado Springs, CO, USA
I never tried writing a song in the 60’s as that was my birth decade, but I would say that it’s fundamentally easier to write and publish music now than it was back then. Even commercial success opportunities abound compared to any time in the past as a songwriter. I can and do participate in collaborative songwriting with people from around the planet and it is incredibly fulfilling to do so. This was unimaginable decades ago unless someone was independently wealthy. All industries ‘flatten out’ from an income standpoint as technology enables more and more people, societies and cultures to participate in the market. Supply has increased by orders of magnitude and those of you that recall your economics classes remember what happens to price when supply goes up. People using BIAB benefit immensely from the supply of world class studio musicians performing their songs. If you have done a proper job of arrangement, you can make a world class recording of your song, for nearly free relative to what it used to cost.
Loc: Victoria, BC
I think I am the odd ball out, although I feel like my music tastes have always been quite eclectic.
I just really enjoy music -- don't we all? -- and am willing to overlooking lyrics not really making "sense". I'm not personally a fan of their sound, but there is a very unique group called CocoRosie who have gotten quite popular with some niche groups. They mix abstract lyrics, sounds and vocals (and occasionally opera). I do love a good opera and perhaps if they had more of an operatic take to their songs more frequently I would listen to them on my own, but the way they choose to sing most of their songs is not my personal cup of tea.
An example of their lyrics from their song Werewolf:
"Crystal ships dripping with ice, diamonds coruscate In the night fireworks electric bright And now he's got his own two sons Tries to hide his tears in a world of fun But loveless bedrooms filled with doom Bring silent heartache July to June"
I am not quite sure what it means -- I think I have an idea, but I am not sure. I just get the impression that it's incredibly sad and reflective of a darker time. The song still moves me, even if I am not personally a fan of it, which is an odd place to be in -- appreciating an artist for what they do, but not being a fan of theirs.
Loc: Los Angeles, Cauliflower
Ember, thank you so much for turning us onto CocoRosie. While i have not listened to them yet, i was so intrigued by the fragment of their Werewolf lyric that you posted, that i have been reading alot of their lyrics and i like them quite a bit. I definitely will be giving them a listen.
But now i'd like to focus on what you said about overlooking lyrics that did not makie sense. This is something that used to bother me for decades. I have always loved the lyrics to John Lennon's I Am The Walrus. John never pretended that those lyrics made any sense. He was just having fun playing with the sounds of words. As a matter of fact, John wrote 2 short books that are entirely filled with nothing more than puns and wordplay.
However, it has always bothered me that so many of Bob Dylan's songs, especially from what is considered to be his peak period in the mid-sixties, did not seem to have any meaning,he just seemed to be writing lyrics that sounded good. And since Dylan has almost always been extremely reluctant to explain what his songs meant, it has often been difficult to ascertain if many of his songs meant anything at all, or if he was actually trying to communicate something, but he was just doing a terrible job at communicating his meaning. This is the main reason why so many people, including Joni Mitchell, have considered Dylan to be a literary con artist.
I'll give you an example. My favorite Dylan lyric has always been Desolation Row, and many consider that song to be one of his best. But i never have been able to understand what alot of those lines meant. For example: "Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood with his memories in a trunk Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk Now he looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette And he went off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet" Now, i love the way that particular juxtaposition of words sounds, but i haven't the faintest of ideas what that means.
So, i had struggled with this dilemna for several decades, whether or not it was important for song lyrics to mean anything, or if merely being an interesting choice of words is sufficient for a song lyric to be worthwhile. My confusion about this question was not finally resolved until around a decade or so ago when i read an essay by Edgar Allan Poe called The Poetic Principle. While Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his tales of horror and suspense and his poem The Raven, he also wrote countless essays about various subjects, including literary theory.
In The Poetic Principle, Poe explores the question of whether or not it is necessary or not for a poem to reveal some aspect of what he refers to as Truth, or if merely using a beautiful combination of words would constitute a good poem.
His conclusion was that a beautiful combination of words is merely enough for a poem to be considered a good, or even a great poem.
Reading The Poetic Principle had an enormous effect on my life. I was now finally able to enjoy, without feeling guilty, those lyrics of Dylan's, and some other lyricists, that did not seem to make any sense, but merely sounded interesting. You can read the entire essay The Poetic Principle here:
I have also pasted below parts of the essay that sum up Poe's main point below:
"It has been assumed, tacitly and avowedly, directly and indirectly, that the ultimate object of all Poetrv is Truth. Every poem, it is said, should inculcate a moral; and by this moral is the poetical merit of the work to be adjudged......
With as deep a reverence for the True as ever inspired the bosom of man, I would, nevertheless, limit, in some measure, its modes of inculcation......
Thus, although in a very cursory and imperfect manner, I have endeavoured to convey to you my conception of the Poetic Principle. It has been my purpose to suggest that, while this Principle itself is, strictly and simply, the Human Aspiration for Supernal Beauty, the manifestation of the Principle is always found in an elevating excitement of the Soul—quite independent of that passion which is the intoxication of the Heart—or of that Truth which is the satisfaction of the Reason."
Edited by ManInTwoSocks (03/25/1808:35 PM)
Matador is beautiful,a symphony of style Excitement is ecstatic, passion places bets Gracefully he bows to ovations that he gets But the hands that are applauding are slippery with sweat And saliva is falling from their smiles
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